The X-Files #284: I Want to Believe

"I don't believe this." "You know, that's been your problem from the very beginning."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully are brought out of retirement to help follow clues uncovered by a psychic.

REVIEW: When it comes to the big TV franchises who make it to film - and Star Trek comes to mind here - there is often a contingent of fandom that invariably bemoans the use of apocalyptic plots in every damn movie. "Why can't we just have an exploration/investigation/small-scale plot from time to time? Why must the universe hang in the balance every time?" The reality is, movies don't come out as often as television episodes do, so when you have to take the Enterprise/FBI blacktop out, it better be for something big. You want it to be a movie-sized event. So while I'm perfectly tired of the unresolvable X-Files mytharc, which would be six years away in a casual fan's memory by the time this film came out, the series finale left too much open-ended for it NOT to be about the mytharc, specifically the super-soldier/colonization conspiracy. I Want to Believe is instead a monster of the week plot extended to 100 minutes, and not even that, really. It's not a badly told one, and the snowbound locations do add production value to something that's a little low on stunts and effects for a genre film, but in no way does it feel necessary. And that's a problem. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "movie event".

So forget about Doggett and Reyes. Forget about the super-soldiers and Kersh. Forget about the aliens. This one's about the redemption of a psychic pedophilic priest who helps the FBI (eventually) stop one of the children he abused long ago, now grown to be a modern-day Frankenstein monster. It's not clearly said, but the new kids on the X-File block, unpopular believer Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and stubborn unbeliever (far less useful than an actual skeptic, he's played by rapper Xzibit) get Scully to bring Mulder out of retirement in exchange for a full pardon - again, no mention of what the super-soldier overlords think of this if they still exist). The reason Whitney needs Mulder is very thin, he really doesn't do anything she couldn't have, but then this is also a story that requires us to believe that Scully is now a brain surgeon. Her medical subplot about stem cell therapy frowned upon by the Catholic administration of her hospital is something of a distraction (not a good showing overall for the Church, eh?) even if elements from it do filter into the main narrative. But the important thing is that we have our heroes back working on an X-File (and Skinner too, eventually, so his career wasn't ruined after all).

The emotional thrust of the story is how our agents react to being pulled back into the life. Mulder is all too eager to return, but Scully sees it as an impediment to a normal life together (they still are). But then, his inability to ever give up is what drew her to him, just as it's what's tearing them apart. Of course, Scully is also loathe to give up, but they each care about different things. These guys can't win. They do have a dream of going off to some tropical island, and the film does, in the credits sequence, give us a bit of that dream. Bit cheesy, but it shouldn't be taken literally. (The extended cut also puts lots of pictures of cast and crew in the credits sequence, which is frankly ugly and distracting.) It's not all strife and misery, with plenty of opportunities for gallows humor, their chemistry still sparking some fun banter. Not sure about the George Bush joke, since they left the FBI while he was in office - it's nothing new - but the comedy does work.

As for the plot, it works as a procedural puzzle for detectives to solve, but the supernatural element is at best unfocused. We've got a psychic priest (crying blood, no less) whose visions lead the FBI to dead bodies. Fine. Later, there'll also be mention of strange coincidences, times of death, etc. which really weren't necessary. But the active crime element is pure mad science, with a dying man making his lover kidnap young woman so he can graft his head on their bodies, rinse repeat when the graft invariably fails. These guys are Russians, and they're operating in a cabin in the woods, and, well, that's a whole lot disparate elements to throw into the film. X-Files can be about science-fiction AND paranormal elements, but it's not so great when they're mixed together. The trailers kind of hid what the film was about, but turns out it was about everything, or if you like, about nothing you particularly cared about.

- Pleasant enough, at least until the jumble of ideas makes its audience grow bored and restless. It's basically a regular episode of the show, padded within an inch of shapelessless.



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